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The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 8 February 2017 and is scheduled to have its second reading on 20 and 21 February 2017. It would give the Prime Minister power to notify the European Council of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the European Union, under the procedure set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. The Explanatory Notes state that the Bill would also provide for the UK to leave the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). The Government has stated its intention to trigger Article 50 before the end of March 2017 and it has set out a case for fast-tracking the Bill to meet this timetable.

The Government has introduced this Bill following a Supreme Court ruling that an Act of Parliament is required to give notice of the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. The Supreme Court also concluded that the Sewel Convention (according to which the Westminster Parliament does not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters except with the agreement of the devolved legislature) does not give rise to a legally enforceable obligation. The Government has stated that the Bill does not contain any provision which gives rise to the need for a legislative consent motion in the devolved legislatures. On 7 February 2017, the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of a motion that the Bill should not proceed, although this has no legal force to block the Bill.

This briefing summarises the debates that took place on the Bill in the House of Commons. The Bill was given its second reading by 498 votes to 114, a majority of 384. Divisions were held at committee stage on: arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit negotiations; the status of EU nationals in the UK; the role and status of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations; EU funding in Wales; Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement; parliamentary votes to approve deals negotiated with the EU; ‘resetting’ the UK’s membership of the EU if a deal was not negotiated within two years; the case for a deal to be approved by the British people in a referendum; requiring the Government to report on the economic and financial impact of Brexit; setting statutory negotiating objectives; maintaining EU tax avoidance and evasion measures; the role of Gibraltar in the Brexit process; and the process for leaving Euratom. All of the new clauses and amendments were defeated and the Bill was not amended at committee stage. The Government gave an undertaking that both Houses of Parliament would be given a vote on the withdrawal arrangements and the UK’s future relationship with the European Union before any agreement was concluded, and it expected to hold the vote before the European Parliament debated and voted on the final agreement. However, the Government said that there was “no need” to amend the Bill to reflect this. Keir Starmer described this as a “very important concession”, but other MPs were less convinced that it represented an advance on what the Government had previously promised. The Bill was given its third reading by 494 votes to 122, a majority of 372.

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